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Arts Beat: A hidden gallery, stolen art and 20 years of painting oceans

Even if you’re familiar with downtown San Luis Obispo, there’s an art gallery you might have missed on a stroll down Higuera Street.

Sheryl Daane Chesnut is the owner of EDNA Contemporary, a fine art gallery previously tucked behind Basalt Interiors, along San Luis Obispo Creek. Chesnut recently signed a lease to move to a new location at 583 Dana Street. Her most recent exhibit is titled “Oceans and Airstreams” is open for viewing and features the work of Danielle Eubank, an expedition artist.

Chesnut said the gallery is open for private appointments for people to look at the artwork, so she could allow some people in the gallery during pandemic shutdowns, but the opening for the new exhibit was a welcomed experience.

“Getting back together with people after COVID was fabulous, but I have been lucky to see people on a very limited basis,” Chesnut said.

The gallery’s first opening was in March 2020, a week before the shutdowns. Chesnut said she wants to connect the gallery to the community in multiple ways — including with donations to nonprofits — but she also wants to make purchasing art a more personal experience.

“Connecting to the community by bringing the artists that are really great — I mean, like, super amazing artists — bringing them to the community for the openings so that the people that purchase the art are also able to meet the artists,” Chesnut said.

Chesnut said she wants her gallery to be a place where people can feel comfortable enjoying art.

“It’s kind of like wine. People go, ‘I don't know if this is good, I mean I like it.’ Art should be about what you like,” Chesnut said. “It shouldn't be about what someone else is telling you is good. So, we try to make it a very comfortable and casual environment.”

She described the theme of the current exhibit open for viewing: “It’s kind of fun and lively – a little bit whimsical with the airstreams – and very Central Coast-motivated because people are very in touch with the oceans here,” Chesnut said.

There are four artists featured in the gallery including: Scott Yeskel, Julie Brookman, Thea Schrack and Danielle Eubank.

Chesnut describes Eubank’s style: “Danielle is an oil painter, she paints on linen. She straddles the line between abstract and realism,” Chesnut said. “It’s very, very focused view of the reflections in the water, and it’s great because you know what it is, but it's also extremely abstract because of it.”

Eubank is an expedition artist who created a project spanning more than 20 years titled “One Artist Five Oceans,” for which she sailed and painted every ocean in the world.

“There are five oceans. So, there is the Atlantic and the Pacifc and the Arctic and the Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean, and I have been able to sail them and paint them,” Eubank said.

Her most recent voyage was an expedition to Antarctica in 2019. She’s still creating paintings from that journey.

Recently, two of Eubank’s paintings were stolen as Chesnut was bringing them to show to potential buyers in San Luis Obispo. The paintings that were stolen are titled “Antarctica I  '' and “Antarctica II” and were the first paintings Eubank created from her last voyage in the Southern Ocean. While Eubank has photographs of the works, she said it's nowhere close to having the real thing.

“The thing that is so upsetting about a situation like this is, first of all, they're the first two paintings from that final ocean,” Eubank said. “The second thing is that now I can never ever show those paintings, unless they get returned to me. I can never show them. They can never be in a museum. They can never be faithfully in someone’s house because somebody out there will know they have been stolen. So those paintings are like they never existed.”

Eubank described the moment she first heard about the theft: “Shock, I was in pure shock, I couldn't imagine. Well, the first thought was, ‘Oh maybe they went through the truck looking for something else and they'll find the painting on the side of the road someplace,’ but that's not the case,” Eubank said.

Credit Danielle Eubank
These are the two paintings that were stolen Antarctica I and Antarctica II. Each are oil paintings on linen and 42x60 inches.

Eubank said Chesnut filed a police report and any information about the stolen artwork can be sent to the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

The paintings that were stolen were 42 by 60 inches. For reference, that’s 3-and-a-half feet high by 5 feet wide. Eubank said you can’t see all of the time and effort that went into each painting just by looking at them.

“I think that having something that you have made yourself stolen is especially disheartening and hurtful,” Eubank said. “Each one took about a month to create. That's just the creation. That's just the painting on the canvas. That doesn't include the voyage to Antarctica. That doesn’t include the months or years of planning to get to that point. That doesn't include practicing your art for decades, right?”

Eubank said going on expeditions and being on a boat in the middle of the ocean is like nothing she’s ever experienced.

“The feeling of being on the water with no airplanes flying overhead, no other boats passing you by. At night having the stars go right down to the horizon of the water. There’s nothing like that,” Eubank said.

One of the things that surprised Eubank about her expedition to Antarctica was all the animals she saw.

“There was a very large concentration of animals where I was. I saw lots of different whale species. I saw a couple of different dolphin species, which of course, are whales. I saw a lot of different birds. I saw a lot of different seals. I was surprised at just the sheer amount of animals I saw.”

Eubank has painted many subjects including trees, animals and portraits, but says water allows her to combine many of her passions.

“I started painting water because it allowed me the freedom to create an abstract image at the same time that I could create a portrait, at the same time that I could pay homage to nature. It doesn’t seem like those things go together very well, but they do with water.”

When people think about paintings of water, they may imagine colors like blue, seafoam green and white. While Eubank does use these colors, she also takes a more unexpected route and paints the water during sunrise and sunset with bright orange hues.

Credit Danielle Eubank
Arctic VI is one of the paintings featured at the EDNA Contemporary Gallery.

When she paints, Eubank said she’s always trying to push herself to do something new — and that level of vulnerability can be scary at times.

“I think it's that I'm trying to do something that I've never done before. I'm trying to push myself a little harder — push myself into what I call my own personal cutting edge,” Eubank said. “We all have our own personal cutting edge — that thing that is uncomfortable for you —that thing that is hard. And the closer you get to that thing the scarier it gets. So, it can actually be kind of scary when you’re creating.”

Eubank said she didn’t start painting water thinking it would turn into a project spanning more than 20 years.

“I definitely did not think about painting all of the oceans when I started painting them. I think I was slightly intimidated by the size of the earth,”Eubank said. “Maybe it was that point when I was sitting on the foredeck of the Borobudur ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean where I started thinking about what my place was in this ocean, literally.”

Although she has been fascinated with the movement and form of water since a young age, Eubank said it was never something she thought she’d be able to capture.

“I remember when I was about 12 years old. I’m from Sonoma County in northern California. And I remember sitting on the beach looking out at the Pacific Ocean with my mom and dad, and I remember looking at the water and how it was crashing on the beach — on the sand, the dark gray sand — and I remember thinking, ‘I will never be able to draw that. That is too hard,’ and I think I tucked that memory away — not too deeply — because I think about it all the time now,” Eubank said.

Eubank’s paintings will be featured at the EDNA Contemporary Gallery through the month of June. To make an appointment to view her work, visit the EDNA Contemporary Gallery website.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.

Lauren Walike joined KCBX as its news manager in February 2021. In addition to her KCBX work, Lauren also serves as news director for KCPR-FM, Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, and digital director of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s student-run news organization. She will graduate from Cal Poly’s Honors Program in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Media Arts, Society and Technology.
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